Prime numbers: How stamp duty-dodging Tony Blair became a multi-millionaire

The Pandora Papers revealed Tony and Cherie avoided paying £312k in stamp duty – pocket change to the ex-PM

 

It’s easy to spot Tony Blair’s London home in Connaught Square in Bayswater, just a short walk from Marble Arch. The two uniformed police officers on the doorstep toting machine guns are the giveaway. There are others you won’t see, of course. The former prime minister, and wife Cherie, have round-the-clock armed protection, with at least four armed police always on duty.

The officers are from the Metropolitan Police Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection group, the same unit in which the rapist and murderer Wayne Couzens served, along with colleague David Carrick who, last week, was charged with raping a woman he met on Tinder.

The house is a five-storey, Grade 2-listed Georgian townhouse which was bought when Blair was prime minister, for £3.65 million on a mortgage which Cherie described at the time as “the size of Mount Snowdon”.

She worried at the time how they would afford it and how the responsibility might fall on her as a

high-earning QC. Fortunately, the mountain was conquered and there are no such worries now. Apart from her own income and investments – including in a residential letting company with son Euan – husband Tony is now worth at least £75m.

For a time after leaving office he was the world’s highest-paid public speaker, regularly charging up to £200,000, although Goldman Sachs paid him £300,000 to speak in 2008. He was also retained as an adviser to Zurich Financial Services and JP Morgan at a combined annual fee of £3m.

Blair was also paid a £4.6m advance for his memoirs but was forced to donate it and future royalties to services charities after he was roundly criticised by bereaved families and veterans of the Iraq War.

For eight years after leaving Number 10, Blair was the UN’s Middle East adviser but quit in the face of criticism and boycotts by Palestinians leaders who claimed that he was pro-Israel.

As if all of this was not enough, he set up Tony Blair Associates to give “strategic advice” to a range of clients, which included oil companies as well as governments in Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Odious dictators

HE raked in millions giving advice to some of the most odious of the world’s dictators and repressive regimes. There was the £8m deal with the corrupt and repressive government of Kazakhstan, a kleptocracy ruled over by the autocrat Nursultan Nazarbayev, who paid rapper Kanye West $3m to perform at his grandson’s wedding, in a country where the annual income was $8,000.

There was a similar deal in 2013 with president Alpha Conde of Guinea who sought his help after his forces fired live rounds at unarmed protesters. Blair’s “independent, politically neutral organisation”, the Africa Governance Initiative, advised Conde on how to win the “communications battle”. Last month, a military coup overthrew him.

In 2014, following the military coup in Egypt a year before, Blair became an adviser to the president and dictator, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, an authoritarian who has jailed hundreds of opponents as so-called enemies of the state. Last year, hundreds of European and US lawmakers called on al-Sisi to halt the unjust imprisonment of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and political activists in Egypt, imprisoned solely for exercising their human rights.

Then there’s the £9m deal with Saudi Arabia to help the country modernise and support its change programme, change which clearly hasn’t led to democracy within, nor put a stop the public amputations and beheadings. In 2010, TBA had been paid £41,000 a month plus 2 per cent commission by the oil company PetroSaudi.

Blair refused to cut the ties with the monarchy in the wake of the murder by Saudi Arabia of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi three years ago, neither has he wavered in support of the country in the war in Yemen, using high-tech munitions, including some made in Scotland.

In late 2016, while continuing to hold onto a small number of individual clients for his income, he announced that he would focus on philanthropic activities, setting up the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a not-for-profit company which he wholly owns and which employs 267 staff worldwide. According to the latest accounts for 2020, lodged with Companies House last week, turnover was $45.5m, almost $40m of that coming from giving advice to governments, although just which ones these are is not revealed.

Property wealth

MUCH of the Blairs’ wealth has been invested in property. Connaught Square is now valued at more than £8.5m. Linked to it is a mews house, bought for security reasons on the advice of the security services in 2007, for £800,000. That is now worth £1.7m.

The Blairs also treated themselves to a stately home at Wotton Underwood in Buckinghamshire. The former owner of the Grade 1-listed South Pavilion, built in 1704 and with gardens by Capability Brown, was the actor Sir John Gielgud. The Blairs paid £4m. It is now worth north of £10m.

Cherie’s alternative career as a property investor began inauspiciously with the “Cheriegate” controversy in 2002 when she bought two flats in Bristol, denying allegations that she had benefited from a discount negotiated by convicted conman Peter Foster, then boyfriend of her stylist Carole Caplin.

In what has been called the “Blair rich project”, the wealth spreads throughout the family. Eldest son Euan is a partner, with mum, in a property and lettings company called Oldbury Residential, which has assets of £3.2m – homes it has bought – and, according to its latest unaudited accounts, made an annual profit of £130,662.

Oldbury owns more than 30 flats and houses in the north of England, including 10 flats bought in Urmston, Manchester, for £650,000 in 2014, 14 flats in Stockport bought in the same year for £1.3m, three more Stockport flats bought in 2015 for £225,000, and four bought in Manchester’s Whalley Range in 2016 for £265,000.

Prodigal son

BUT all of this dwarfs Euan’s latest cash bonanza. Last month, his education start-up Multiverse – which claims to be building an alternative to university through professional apprenticeships – was valued at £147m, making his 47% stake worth around £70m. Well, it was his dad who said “education, education, education”.

Younger brother Nicky is, or was, a football agent. He hasn’t been as lucky in his entrepreneurial ventures,although he hasn’t suffered financially because of his parents.

His company, Magnitude, in which Cherie was a co-director, has been compulsorily struck off. Its registered address was his parents’ London home at 29 Connaught Square. According to Fifa and Football Association registers he is no longer listed as an agent.

Mother and son have also collaborated in the property market.

In 2012, Nicky and Cherie bought a Georgian townhouse in London for £1.35m cash, selling it six years later with a £400,000 profit. That same year, Nicky and his wife Alexandra paid £2.75m for a home in north London.

Nicky also served as a director in another of the senior Blairs’ property operations, Harcourt Ventures – for just one day in 2017. Harcourt has, according to its latest unaudited accounts, property assets worth £7m.

Pandora papers

LAST week, it was revealed in the Pandora papers that Tony and Cherie avoided having to pay £312,000 in stamp duty when they bought the

four-floor building in Harcourt Street in Marylebone for £6.45m. It is now the headquarters of her legal practice and her women’s foundation.

The other two Blair kids are Kathryn and Leo. She is a barrister, like her parents, and owns two London houses. The first, worth some £1.4m, was bought in 2013 under her mother’s name before the ownership was transferred to her. In 2018, Kathryn paid £2.4m for a second property in central London.

She also has a property interest in Buckinghamshire. This is in the four-bedroom house near the stately home mum and dad bought – mortgage free – for £600,000 in 2013, now transferred to Kathryn and the youngest Blair, Leo, who is 21 and a student.

Tony Blair has always been opaque about the extent of his wealth. He said in 2014: “I read I’m supposed to be worth £100m … Cherie is asking where it is.” He added: “I’m not worth half of that,

a third, a quarter, a fifth of that, I could go on.”

Not many would believe that.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992